Mairi Woolson & Goathilton Valtostine RIP

20 02 2021

Fans of 60s soul and beat music across the world mourned the passing recently of Supremes vocalist Mary Wilson (the blone who didn’t have quite as many fights with Diana Ross as the other one) and Animals guitarist Hilton Valentine – whose much-copied intro to  “House of The Rising Sun” is said to have inspired Bob Dylan to go electric. 

By a strange coincidence both Wilson and Valentine had Stornoway cousins who passed away at around the same time, and who were also involved in the music industry (albeit on a slightly more local level). To ensure they’re not forgotten in the rush to pay tribute to their relatives from Away, we have prepared this small celebration of their lives and careers.

Màiri Woolson

Màiri Woolson was one of the founding members of The Sùgh-premes along with Diana RossandCromartyCountyCouncil and Florence Balallan. The trio originally came together to take part in the 1962 National Mod in Kinlochbervie, as the ‘Nicolson Institute Girls’ Choir (Continuing)’ after having been thrown out of the Nicolson Institutes Girls’ Choir for ‘inappropriate and suggestive harmonies, not becoming of a young lady’. 

Their Gaelic cover version of Bludy Holy’s ‘Peigi Sùgh’’ created a stir with the judges,  but they were sadly disqualified due to wearing provocative tartan miniskirts (only 4 inches below the knee). Incidentally, their choice of song at the Mod also gave them the idea for their name.

Normally, disqualification from the National Mod meant you had to emigrate to Glasgow and change your name. But for the three blones all was not lost. Their performance had been noted by Berisay Gordy, the owner of ‘Tormod Mawtown Records’, and he was quick to sign the girls up to a multi song deal. 

Backed by Mawtown’s regular c(r)ack session musicians The Fank Brothers, the girls recorded hit after hit and eventually became the most successful blone group of all time until Bunavonanarama.

There was always tension within the group and a big rivalry with all the other 60s blone groups like Martha and the Fishvandellas, the Velvetcrabettes, The Rubha-nets, the Siarachelles, The Marviglettes, The WeeFree Degrees…. But the Sùgh-premes beat them all with a string of hits like:

  • You Sheep Mehhh Hanging On
  • You Can’t Hearach Leodhas
  • Where Did Our Cove Go
  • Stop! In the Name of Liòbags
  • Stoneyfield Love

Despite their success, life in the band was difficult, with constant feuding between demanding diva RossandCromartyCountyCouncil and inveterate poacher Ballallan, and Woolson was usually caught in the middle. Balallan would often miss a gig if the moon wasn’t out and she’d got word that the watchers were in town on a bender, while RossAndCromaryCountyCouncil insisted on top billing, the biggest dressing room and first swig of the band bottle of 4 Crown every night. 

Luckily Diana RossandCromartyCountyCouncil left the band in the early 1970s due to local government reorganisation, so things calmed down a bit after that.

After leaving the Sùgh-premes herself in the late 70s, Woolson maintained a successful solo career, with numerous residencies in the swish casinos and resorts of Lax Vegas, and on the luxury cruise liner circuit (she was often found singing in the bar on the Suilven). When not working, Woolson indulged in her favourite hobby of suing her former management, record company and bandmates. 

You Sheep Mehhh Hanging On

‘Shear my fleece why don’t you babe

Get out your deamhais why don’t you babe

Cos you don’t really shear me

You just keep some hanging on

Why are your sheep a-running round

Praying at the Auction Mart

Why don’t you get me out and save my life

And let my wool knit a brand new sgiort

Let me get udder ewe

The way you’ve gotten over mehhh’ 

Goathilton Valtostine

Goathilton Valtostine was the lead guitarist in the Arnolmals, a popular West Side peat combo who formed in the early 60s, and made their name as the house band at legendary  Skigersta nightspot the Club A Guga. 

Valtostine was joined in the band by Eric Brudonniemurdo (on precenting), Ballan “Truiseal” Price (on Tha Mòd Accordion), notoriously incontinent drummer John Steall, and the great Chas “Morrison&sons” Chandler (on bass). 

Chandler, of course, went on to manage Jimi Hendrix, Slade and the ironmongery department on Bank Street.

The Arnolmals had gained a loyal fanbase on the Taobh Siar, but leapt to island-wide fame (and the top of the charts) with their soulful version of an old D**gl*s Leadbelly song, ‘MissionHouse of the Rising Sun(day)’. The famously egotistical Price later claimed that the group’s unique arrangement of the song was all his work, but the rest of the band have always been unanimous in maintaining that: 

  1. Price was a geehonk that they only ever let into the band because he had his own accordion.
  2. He was talking fleekeen ruppish, and 
  3. It was Valtostine’s much-imitated guitar intro that really made the song.

The band allegedly got their name because they were a bunch of ugly bleigeards, so it came as a shock to Eric Brudonniemurdo when – one night during a tour of Point in 1963 – it was announced that he had won first prize in a local beauty contest because nobody else had  had turned up. A mortified Brudonniemurdo told the organising committee to fleek off, the band fled the venue and, on the way back across the Barvas Moor, Burdonniemurdo and Valtostine wrote their next hit: “Dont Let Me Be Miss Ionad Stoodie”.

Another big success was ‘We Gotta Get Outta Assaye Place’ (about Stornoway’s first cul-de-sac confusing lost maws). This song’s popularity was boosted when it became an unofficial anthem for conscripts drafted to fight in the Viet Ram war between North and South Lochs. 

One day in July 1964, famous Hearach folk singer Robert Zimmermanish (aka Bob Dòmhnallan) was listening to Isles AM and was awestruck by Valtostine’s guitar on “MissionHouse of the Rising Sun(day)’. It is said that Bob vowed there and then to go electric. But unfortunately there was no electricity for him to go electric with, and he had to wait another year or two before the Hydro poles reached his house. Luckily he was able to pass the time by writing ‘Blowing On The Wind Turbine’.